What is architectural acoustics?
Architectural acoustics is the science and engineering of achieving good sound within a building.
When considering the role of architecture in acoustics, it is important to understand that architectural acoustic design is different from acoustic insulation.
The main elements of architectural acoustics are:
- The transmission of sound through walls.
- The amount of reverberation in a space (also known as audible perception).
These aspects will be explored in more detail in the following sections.
The importance of good acoustic design
There is an old saying: “Architecture is the art of hiding acoustic problems“.
Acoustic design is an aspect of architecture that has not always been given the attention it deserves by architects and engineers.
Often, acoustic design is only considered after the project has been designed.
This approach can lead to costly adaptations during construction due to poor planning; after all, even if you have the best architect in the world designing your space, it won’t matter if he doesn’t know about acoustics.
With the development of electrical amplification, architectural acoustics became even more important in concert halls and theatres.
Acoustics is a science and an engineering discipline that deals with the behaviour of sound.
The science of acoustics deals with the production and perception of sound.
Sound is a pressure wave that travels through a medium, such as air or water, creating vibrations that our ears interpret as sound.
Acoustic design applications
There are two approaches to acoustic design: structural acoustics, where the acoustic environment is controlled by altering the geometry of the building or its materials, and acoustics.
- The structural approach consists of modifying the geometry of a building or its materials to control sound. This approach is most commonly used in concert halls, where careful design is necessary to ensure a uniform acoustic environment for all seats.
- The acoustic approach, on the other hand, focuses on controlling unwanted noise by adding ‘absorption’ materials (such as carpeting) or limiting reflections with ‘diffusion’ surfaces (such as textured walls). It can also be used to create unique soundscapes that highlight certain noises and filter out others; for example, you may want a quiet room but with some ambient sounds from outside.
Examples where architectural acoustics is important
Sound can be important in many buildings, but the most important throughout history have been mainly churches and concert halls.
- The sound of a church: Church architecture has been designed for centuries to improve acoustics and reverberation. High ceilings and narrow windows help create an echo effect that makes it easier for parishioners to hear the priest’s sermon or the priestess reading. When you visit your local worship centre, listen carefully; you may notice a slight ringing in your ears.
- The sound of a concert hall or theatre: If you have ever attended an orchestral concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall or Vienna’s Musikvereinssaal (to name but a few), you know that such buildings are impressive performers in themselves, and it has nothing to do with their luxurious velvet curtains and velvet seats!
These spaces were built with acoustics in mind so that each musician could hear themselves above the others during the performance.
Architectural acoustics and the fight against noise pollution
In recent years there has been a growing awareness of how noise pollution can affect our lives, both physically and psychologically.
As a result, acoustic design is becoming increasingly important, both in terms of aesthetics and performance.
Architects and planners are increasingly focusing on these aspects to help reduce the noise that can be generated by buildings in contact with the natural elements.
The relationship between architecture and acoustics is an interesting topic that deserves more attention from architects, planners and engineers.
It is important to remember that every building has its own acoustic characteristics and that architects can use this knowledge to create beautiful spaces where people want to spend time with family and friends.